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Stirring the Pot: Spice Girl

My daughter Leigh has complained on more than one occasion that she is the only one of the five Cohen kids who has not been featured in my recipe column. I have reminded her, also on more than one occasion, that her food groups consist of sweet potatoes, salad, and hummus. Hard to expand on that.

So not true.

For Leigh is a Spice Girl, feisty and bold. Whether she is riding a bicycle across the United States in support of Habitat for Humanity, or running the Chicago Marathon (because why run just a few miles when you can do 26.2?), she wears her pedigree lightly. IU grad, Northwestern professor, yoga and fitness instructor, daughter, sister, aunt. True, her palette is limited, her kitchen skills virtually nonexistent. But she embodies the essential ingredients that ignite: a zest for life, a fire in her belly, a brash sizzle, and a subtle hint of sweetness.

Here, then, are Leigh-inspired dishes. With a twist that I think she would appreciate. It is really one recipe four ways. Once the vegetables are peeled, cut, or chopped, just add a few other goodies. From there, spices and cooking methods will take you wherever you want to go. Just follow the Spice Girl route!

The Base

A few options for The Base. | Photo by Ruthie Cohen

A few options for The Base. | Photo by Ruthie Cohen

Consider this list a guideline rather than dogma. You might prefer other vegetable combinations — zucchini or eggplant, say — or maybe it’s time to empty your fridge of those veggies that have clocked a bit too much time in the crisper.

The smaller the vegetables are chopped, the quicker they cook.

Remember to save all the peels and vegetable scraps to make a rich stock for future dishes.

1 onion, peeled and chopped in small dice
2 carrots, peeled and chopped in 1/2-inch circles
2 red, yellow, or orange peppers (or a combination) sliced into 1-inch squares
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large parsnip, peeled and cut into 1-inch circles
2 medium potatoes, sweet and/or white, peeled and sliced into 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups broccoli and/or cauliflower, coarsely chopped
1 cup portobello or white button mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
1 cup fresh or frozen peas

Assemble the ingredients and proceed to your recipe of choice.

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WILD WEST VEGETABLE HASH PANCAKE

1 tablespoon olive oil
The Base
2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1 tablespoon hot sauce, or 1/2 teaspoon chopped jalapeños to taste
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet. Sauté onion several minutes until translucent. Add carrots, pepper, and garlic. Cook until softened and aromatic, about 5 minutes. Add parsnip, potatoes, and broccoli or cauliflower, along with 2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce. Stir, then cover and steam on low heat until vegetables soften, about 10 minutes. Remove lid. Crank up the heat to medium, stir in mushrooms and chopped pecans or walnuts. Add peas, hot sauce or jalapeños, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until all the liquid evaporates and the bottom of the hash is lightly browned. Sprinkle with cilantro leaves. Flip and continue to cook until the other side is lightly browned. If it looks a bit soggy, you can finish the browning in a preheated oven at 350°F for 10 minutes or more.

Slice in wedges and serve as is or with salsa and beans.

LASAGNA RED OR WHITE

9 lasagna noodles
1 tablespoon olive oil
The Base
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons butter or plant butter

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Prepare lasagna noodles according to package directions, or use the no-boil variety.

Heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet or pot. Sauté onion several minutes until translucent. Add carrots, pepper, and garlic. Cook until softened and aromatic, about 5 minutes. Add the rest of The Base, minus mushrooms and peas, making any substitutions that you prefer or have on hand. Mix in soy sauce. Stir, then cover and steam on a low heat until vegetables soften, about 10 minutes. While the vegetables are cooking, melt 2 tablespoons butter or plant butter in a skillet. Add mushrooms and sauté until browned and fragrant. Add mushrooms and peas to the rest of the vegetables, stirring to combine.

For red sauce:

2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 14-ounce cans diced plain or fire-roasted tomatoes with liquid
1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning, or combination oregano, marjoram, sweet or hot pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups grated cheese or nutritional yeast, optional

In a small saucepan, heat tomato paste with canned tomatoes. Stir to combine. Add seasoning. If you prefer a smoother sauce, you can purée the mixture, though diced tomatoes add texture.

To assemble: Pour one cup of sauce into a 13-by-9-inch sprayed baking pan. Layer with three lasagna noodles. Spoon 1/3 of The Base over the noodles. Cover with 1/2 cup sauce. Repeat with a layer of noodles, vegetables, and sauce. Top with three remaining lasagna noodles and the rest of the sauce.

Cover with foil. Bake 35–40 minutes. Sprinkle with grated cheese before serving.

For white sauce:

5 tablespoons butter or plant butter
1/2 cup flour
5 cups whole milk or plant-based milk (unsweetened)
1/2 cup nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup shredded cheese or vegan cheese, optional

Melt butter in a sauce pan. Add flour and stir to coat in butter. Let the flour cook on a low flame until a roux forms and a nutty aroma emerges, about 10 minutes. Pour in milk gradually, stirring to break up lumps that form. Cook on medium heat, stirring frequently until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Add nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

To assemble: Pour one cup of sauce into a 13-by-9-inch sprayed baking pan. Layer with three lasagna noodles. Spoon 1/3 of The Base over the noodles. Cover with 1/2 cup sauce and 3/4 cup of the cheese, if using. Repeat with a layer of noodles, vegetables, and sauce. Top with three remaining lasagna noodles, sprinkle the remainder of the cheese on top, and pour on the rest of the sauce. Cover with foil. Bake for 35–40 minutes.

SWEET AND SAVORY VEGETABLE BIRYANI

Leigh Cohen, the inspiration. | Photo by Ruthie Cohen

Leigh Cohen, the inspiration. | Photo by Ruthie Cohen

1 tablespoon olive oil
The Base
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger or 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 cup uncooked rice
1 14-ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes with liquid
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth or water
1 15-ounce can kidney beans or garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/4 cup raisins and/or dried cherries
1/2 cup plain dairy or vegan yogurt, optional
1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds, optional garnish

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Heat olive oil in an ovenproof skillet. If you haven’t got one, spray a 13-by-9-inch baking pan, set aside, and heat oil in a deep pan or a large pot. Sauté onion several minutes until translucent. Add carrots, pepper, and garlic. Cook until softened and aromatic, about 5 minutes. Add the rest of The Base. Omit the mushrooms. Stir to combine and soften, about 5 minutes. Add seasonings, rice, canned tomatoes, and broth or water. Bring to a boil. Turn off the heat. Stir in kidney or garbanzo beans. If using an ovenproof skillet, cover and place in the oven, or transfer everything into prepared pan, cover, and place in the oven. Bake 45 minutes until the vegetables and rice are soft, tender, and aromatic.

Remove from oven and stir in apricots, raisins, and cherries. Mix in yogurt if using. Sprinkle with almonds.

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Ruthie Cohen
Ruthie Cohen moved from New Jersey to Bloomington in November 2011. Every day she marvels at her good fortune to be living in this gem of a town. When she is not devising recipes in her kitchen and feeding her friends, Ruthie practices and teaches yoga at Ekah and Vibe Studios.
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